The conclusion is a very important part of your essay. Although it is sometimes treated as a roundup of all of the bits that didn’t fit into the paper earlier, it deserves better treatment than that! It's the last thing the reader will see, so it tends to stick in the reader's memory. It's also a great place to remind the reader exactly why your topic is important. A conclusion is more than just "the last paragraph"—it's a working part of the paper. This is the place to push your reader to think about the consequences of your topic for the wider world or for the reader's own life!
A good conclusion should do a few things:
- Restate your thesis
- Synthesize or summarize your major points
- Make the context of your argument clear
Restating Your Thesis
You've already spent time and energy crafting a solid thesis statement for your introduction, and if you've done your job right, your whole paper focuses on that thesis statement. That's why it's so important to address the thesis in your conclusion! Many writers choose to begin the conclusion by restating the thesis, but you can put your thesis into the conclusion anywhere—the first sentence of the paragraph, the last sentence, or in between. Here are a few tips for rephrasing your thesis:
- Remind the reader that you've proven this thesis over the course of your paper. For example, if you're arguing that your readers should get their pets from animal shelters rather than pet stores, you might say, "If you were considering that puppy in the pet-shop window, remember that your purchase will support 'puppy mills' instead of rescuing a needy dog, and consider selecting your new friend at your local animal shelter." This example gives the reader not only the thesis of the paper, but a reminder of the most powerful point in the argument!
- Revise the thesis statement so that it reflects the relationship you've developed with the reader during the paper. For example, if you've written a paper that targets parents of young children, you can find a way to phrase your thesis to capitalize on that—maybe by beginning your thesis statement with, "As a parent of a young child…"
- Don’t repeat your thesis word for word—make sure that your new statement is an independent, fresh sentence!
Summary or Synthesis
This section of the conclusion might come before the thesis statement or after it. Your conclusion should remind the reader of what your paper actually says! The best conclusion will include a synthesis, not just a summary—instead of a mere list of your major points, the best conclusion will draw those points together and relate them to one another so that your reader can apply the information given in the essay. Here are a couple of ways to do that:
- Give a list of the major arguments for your thesis (usually, these are the topic sentences of the parts of your essay).
- Explain how these parts are connected. For example, in the animal-shelter essay, you might point out that adopting a shelter dog helps more animals because your adoption fee supports the shelter, which makes your choice more socially responsible.
One of the most important functions of the conclusion is to provide context for your argument. Your reader may finish your essay without a problem and understand your argument without understanding why that argument is important. Your introduction might point out the reason your topic matters, but your conclusion should also tackle this questions. Here are some strategies for making your reader see why the topic is important:
- Tell the reader what you want him or her to do. Is your essay a call to action? If so, remind the reader of what he/she should do. If not, remember that asking the reader to think a certain way is an action in itself. (In the above examples, the essay asks the reader to adopt a shelter dog—a specific action.)
- Explain why this topic is timely or important. For example, the animal-shelter essay might end with a statistic about the number of pets in shelters waiting for adoption.
- Remind the readers of why the topic matters to them personally. For example, it doesn’t matter much if you believe in the mission of animal shelters, if you're not planning to get a dog; however, once you're looking for a dog, it is much more important. The conclusion of this essay might say, "Since you’re in the market for a dog, you have a major decision to make: where to get one." This will remind the reader that the argument is personally important!
Writing a conclusion
The conclusion is the last thing your readers will see (and most likely remember). Whereas the introduction creates a first impression, the conclusion is the last impression your reader will get of you and your paper. Just as it creates a bad impression if dinner guests get up and leave at 10PM simply because that was the time they had already decided to leave, it creates a bad impression to abruptly end an essay without a round of goodbyes. You want the reader to understand that you have enjoyed making the argument, been in control of the essay, and can bring it to a conclusion.
A conclusion serves the purpose of reiterating why the paper and its thesis were important. It is where the essay becomes complete, and where the structure of the essay, and its discussions, examples, and quotes make sense. The conclusion brings everything together.
Some possible approaches to writing a conclusion:
- Do not just restate your thesis statement. While the conclusion needs to remind your readers of what the main argument is, you don't want to simply cut and paste the sentences from your introduction.
- Synthesize your thesis statement and the information you provided during the discussion. This is where you show why the examples you presented make sense in relation to the thesis and why they are not a random collection of information. (This is also where you might realize that indeed they do not make sense and thus change them.) Think of the conclusion as the end of a good traditional movie where all the loose ends are tied up and you know how the actions of the movie fit together.
- End your paper with something interesting. Again, to use a movie analogy, this is where you leave a question of what might happen in the future. You can hint at how your research challenges assumptions in the field and what yet needs to be done. You can challenge the reader to think about your conclusions. You can also ask a direct question, but it is advisable to avoid general rhetorical questions as conclusions.
- A good rhetorical strategy is to mirror the language used in the introduction. If you have asked about the relationship between Stravinsky and modern ballet in your introduction, you might want to echo that in your conclusion to make your paper create a rhetorical circle. Do not, however, just repeat yourself.
- Do not end your paper with somebody else's words do not end with a quote. All quotes in a paper should be used for a specific reason and explained within the paper. Furthermore, you don’t want to end with somebody else’s words and hence leave the reader with the expression that you cannot speak for yourself. This is your conclusion, not theirs.